Monday, September 26, 2011

Grazing at the Flat Ranch

Blog post by Laura Yungmeyer, Flat Ranch summer intern

The pastures at the Flat Ranch have earned the envious gaze of more than few cattle-savvy visitors this season.

“You’re not letting that good grass go to waste, are you?,” they ask, surveying the verdant views from the porch of the visitor center. It’s nice to be able to answer visitors with assurance—our rotational grazing practices not only adhere to the land’s time-honored use as cattle ranch, but also ensure its utility as such for years to come.

Both Spring Eagle and Meadow Vue ranches leased rights to run cattle on the Flat Ranch property this summer, as has been the case for the past several years. A quick scan with the spotting scope thus reveals approximately 300 head of cattle, grazing contentedly across nearly 2,000 acres, in any one of our fifteen pastures.

Each ranch sends cowboys out to the Flat Ranch to move the cows from pasture to pasture in accordance with a pre-determined grazing rotation schedule. These efforts are designed to mimic the grazing movements of the bison that inhabited this area historically; they typically grazed small areas of grass intensely and then moved on, allowing for the grass to adequately recover season after season.

We collect data on the effects of grazing by maintaining exclosure cages in each pasture. These chicken wire and t-post structures are designed to preserve a small area of un-grazed grass for use as control data. At the end of the grazing season, we’ll measure the volume of grass in both the grazed and un-grazed areas to measure comparatively the overall impact of the grazing period. Chris Little, East Idaho Field Representative, will account for any instances of under or over-grazing as he designs next year’s grazing schedule for the Flat Ranch.

We’ve also installed several rain gauges throughout the property and are looking forward to utilizing such data to assess vegetative health in both the wettest and driest areas of the property.

Our operation as a working, sustainable cattle ranch speaks to the variety of elements that contribute to our goals here at the Flat Ranch, as we work to preserve not only the ecological assets of this area but the cultural and community assets as well. And as the summer months draw to a close, we at the Flat Ranch find our own boots a bit dustier, our denim with a few more creases—the cowboy bug is an undeniably fun one to catch.

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